William Lyon Mackenzie King

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William Lyon Mackenzie King
William Lyon Mackenzie King Quick Facts

William Lyon Mackenzie King
William Lyon Mackenzie King served as Canada’s prime minister three times between 1921 and 1948, holding office for a total of 21 years during that period. He worked to improve Canadian cooperation with Britain and the United States. Encarta Encyclopedia


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W. L. Mackenzie King (1874-1950), tenth prime minister of Canada (1921-1926, 1926-1930, 1935-1948). King was the leader of Canada's Liberal Party from 1919 to 1948. On his retirement he had held office longer than any other prime minister in the British Commonwealth, and under his leadership, Canada became a participant in world affairs. King contributed much to the cooperation between Britain, Canada, and the United States during and after World War II (1939-1945). However, his greatest achievement was the preservation of unity between French-speaking and English-speaking parts of Canada.


William Lyon Mackenzie King was born in Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario, in 1874. He was named after his maternal grandfather, William Lyon Mackenzie, a leader in an unsuccessful 1837 rebellion against British rule. King's father came from a family that was loyal to Britain, and this combination of opposites foreshadowed King's future.

In 1891 King went to the University of Toronto to study economics and government. He won a scholarship to the University of Chicago and did postgraduate work at Harvard University.

In Toronto and in Chicago, King had been appalled by the poverty of big cities. In the summer of 1897 he took a job as a reporter for the Toronto Mail and Empire and made a study of conditions in the garment industry. He found that the contractors for postmen's uniforms ran some of the worst sweatshops. King told the facts to the postmaster general, Sir William Mulock, who was a family friend, and suggested that a fair-wage clause be included in future contracts. Mulock took the advice. In 1900 he invited King to administer Canada's first department of labor. King accepted and at 25 became deputy minister of labor.


A. Civil Servant

For the next eight years, King remained a civil servant, working to improve labor conditions all over the country. He helped settle some 40 strikes, and he drafted labor legislation.

Although technically a civil servant, King was deeply engaged in politics and was interested in little else. In 1908 King was the Liberal candidate from Waterloo North, Ontario for a seat in the House of Commons. Although the area was mainly Conservative, he was easily elected because of his vigorous and well-organized campaign. In 1909 Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier asked King to be minister of labor. In 1911 the Liberal government was defeated by the Conservatives in the general election, and King lost his post and his seat in the House of Commons.

B. Rise to Leadership

King worked in minor political posts in the Liberal Party. In 1914 he took a job in the United States as director of industrial research with the Rockefeller Foundation, which was impressed by his record in labor negotiations.

In Canada the outbreak of World War I in 1914 caused conflict in the Liberal Party over the issue of conscription, or compulsory enrollment in the armed forces, also called the draft. The Conservative prime minister, Sir Robert Borden, offered Laurier a post in the coalition cabinet. As the leader of Québec, Laurier refused to join a government that favored the draft. However, most of his Liberal colleagues did join, and by 1917 the Liberal Party had almost no strength outside Québec. King remained loyal to Laurier and in the 1917 election ran against a coalition candidate. This was a gesture of loyalty, because King had no chance of winning.

In 1918 King wrote Industry and Humanity, in which he set out...
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